“But our country exists in heaven, from which we also eagerly await a Savior — the Lord Jesus Christ,”
While many of our English translations will render this, “our citizenship is in heaven,” to do so requires a degree of inference. Literally, Paul writes that “our country” or “our homeland” is in heaven. The language paints a picture of a group of colonists living in a land that is not their own. One must recognize that in Paul’s era, this was a common experience. Rome was expanding its borders and oftentimes Roman citizens would relocate to newly expanded territories for economic reasons and thus found themselves as strangers in a strange land.
Some of our translations, then, infer the language of citizenship to emphasize the permanent connection to where the people of the church belong. This world is not our home. Peter describes us a sojourners (1 Peter 2:11), the author of Hebrews says that we await the permanent city to come (Hebrews 13:14), and Paul contrasts the Jerusalem above with the Jerusalem below (Galatians 4:21-28). Satan is referred to as the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2 — often used as a reference to this world but also a reference to idolatry — vanity of vanities says the Preacher!). Like Abraham, we are travelers amongst a people who are unlike us.
How are they unlike us? Go to the previous verses. They are those whose end is destruction, who revel in their sin and seek to satiate their bellies. They are those who will not follow the model of Christ but who pursue the things of the flesh. In contrast, we live a different lifestyle, pursuing the pattern of behavior that we have observed in Paul and in other faithful believers before us.
I find it interesting that when I travel, everyone knows that I am an American even before I open my mouth. Perhaps it is the cowboy boots and the blue jeans, perhaps it is the way I carry myself, whatever it is, when I travel it is as if I carry a neon sign over my head that says, “American.” And note that I am not complaining about that reality; I am grateful to have been born in this great nation. I simply make an observation that should carry back to Paul’s language here. By the way we live, the people of this world (unbelievers) ought to recognize that we don’t belong to this world. Sadly, for many professing Christians, that is a stretch.
But Paul does not stop with the idea of belonging to a different country. He also speaks that while we are colonists here in this world, we are awaiting the coming of a Savior — the Lord Jesus Christ — the Prince of Heaven who will return to this world in glory and call all his citizens to himself. Therein lies our hope. Our hope is not in simply returning to heaven in spirit after our death, but it is in the physical resurrection, like Christ’s resurrection, that will come when our Savior returns from the homeland to claim his own people. That is our hope. Sadly, too, it seems that many professing Christians do not have this hope in sight either.
Like Abraham before us, we are sojourners and aliens in a land not our own. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, we are a church moving through the wilderness on the way to the promised land…but we are not there yet. Yet, let our lifestyles reflect the land to which we belong.